TOWARDS the close of the fifteenth century a fiery and spirited youth was wandering from place to place in Transoxiana, pursued by his own hostile kinsmen and Uzbegs of Sharbani Khan who allowed him no respite.
Unable to recover the throne of his ancestors, he betook himself to the snowy regions “of Kabul, where among a fierce and fanatical people he established himself, and now that he was driven away for good from the west, he began to look about for fresh fields and pastures new. The Afghan empire of India was in a bad condition; it lacked the elements of cohesion and development and its strength was sapped by the feuds of nobles and the imprudence of kings.
The malcontents invited Babur to invade the country and Rana Sanga of Mewar joined in the request. Babur grasped at the opportunity with joy and with his warlike Chaghtais came and overpowered the Afghans and Rajputs alike in two bloody battles at Panipat and Khanua. The old dynasty tumbled down and a new one was put in possession of Delhi and Agra.
But Indian fatalism remained unmoved, and beneath the bright sun and brilliant sky the Mughal conquerors forgot, for the present, the lands of the Oxus and decided to settle down in Hindustan.
Babur’s health soon gave way under the strain of ceaseless fighting and maneuvering and he died in 1530. His son Humayun, a kindly man of weak will and unsteady temper, found it hard to maintain himself on his throne owing to the jealousy of his brothers and the revival of Afghan power. He was expelled from India, and it was after 15 years’ exile that he regained his kingdom, leaving it soon after to his young son, who was horn under the sheltering care of a Hindu in the desert of Umarkot. Like the fragrance of the musk, which the fugitive emperor had distributed among his nobles to celebrate the birth of an heir, his fame spread to all parts of India and Asia. His bold imperialism was not merely the challenge of his physical prowess but also the expression of an eager soul that aimed at bringing the whole of India under its sway by fusing together the diverse elements of the population. He planned a new synthesis of creeds, which were all, according to him, different routes leading to the same goal.
It was a noble dream originally conceived by the great mystics of India who had preceded the mighty Mughal. They had condemned polytheism and bigotry and emphasized the need for a pure faith. A stir was created and idol worship and effete symbolism were alike denounced as futilities which could lead
neither to spiritual advancement nor to human happiness. Thus a new environment was created, of which Akbar was a typical product. As lord of Hindustan, he dreamed of an empire in which the Hindu and the Muslim would be equal partners. The policy of universal peace (Sulh-i-Kul) would unite all, and for the first time the Rajput princes were confronted with a man who conquered to love and cherish. Political subjection lost its sting and defeat its_ bitterness. The princess of Amber, whom Akbar had married at Sanganir, became a golden link in the chain of this new imperialism.’ The fusion of the Rajput and the Mughal, who had so far fought a outrance, augured well for the future; but there was one sad thought that troubled the minds of the exponents of this policy, entirely unknown as it was to the previous Muslim rulers of India. Would the Sisodia house of Mewar accept the policy which Akbar had enounced and Amber had seconded? Who could foresee at this time the crop of miseries and the wails of broken hearts which were to be the lot of the men and women of Mewar, of high and low degree? Pride and prejudice alike tended to confirm the Sisodias as the forlorn hope of Rajput resistance to this new orientation of imperial policy.
The land of Mewar has rightly been regarded as the breeding place of heroes and heroines in history. Situated in the Aravalli hills it is a beautiful country, intersected by mountain torrents and covered with abundant vegetation in many places and forests stretching for miles abounding in all kinds of game. Parts of it are rocky and barren, and
this physical aspect has made the people hardy and vigorous and capable of enduring privations. The seat of political power in the sixteenth century was Chitor, famous alike in legend and history as the nursery of heroes. It is now a small town on the border of a vast plain, and is overlooked by the fort, which stands on a mass of rock three miles and a quarter long and about 1,200 yards wide in the centre. The circumference at the base is more than eight miles* and the height some four or five hundred feet. In the sixteenth century the city was situated on the summit of the hill where now desolation reigns supreme, except for a few humble dwellings of poor cultivators who are the only remnants of what must have been a fairly busy and populous town, adorned with palaces, houses, temples and markets.
As we stand on the lofty hill looking down below, the great figures of history pass before our eyes and we perceive the meaning of Tod’s well-known description.
“With the wrecks of ages around me, I abandoned myself to contemplation. I gazed until the sun’s last beam fell upon “the ringlet of Cheetore, illuminating its grey and grief-worn aspect, like a lambent gleam lighting up the face of sorrow. Who could look on this lonely, this majestic column, which tells in language more easy to interpret than the tablets within, of deeds which should not pass away, And names that must not wither,’ and withhold a sigh for its departed glories? But in vain I dipped my pen to record my thoughts in language; for, wherever the eye fell, it filled the mind with images of the past, and ideas rushed too tumultuously to be recorded. In this mood I continued for some time, gazing listlessly, until the shades of evening gradually enshrouded the temples, columns, and palaces; and as I folded up my paper till the morrow, the words of the prophetic bard of Israel came forcibly to my recollection: “How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! She, that was great among the nations, and princess among the princes, how is she become tributary!”
The entrance to the fort is by a gate which is succeeded by six others through which we have to pass. The last is the Rampol gate, a large and handsome structure, erected in the Hindu style, towards the west. Between these gates are many spots rendered famous by the sacrifice of the sons of Mewar, and in moving accents the lonely guide still relates their story to the tourist and the visitor. Some of the buildings are impressive-Mira’s temple and the Jayastambha, or pillar of victory, which was reared by Rana Kumbha in the fifteenth century to commemorate his success over the Sultans of Malwa and Gujarat.
The Rajputs of Mewar were a gallant tribe. Brave and undaunted, they were always ready to lay down their lives for the honour of their race. The bards recount their virtues with fervour, and sober history sees no reason to dissent from their patriotic panegyrics. Mewar has the unique distinction of being a state in Rajasthan which has produced in the past great rulers and warriors and in awful crises her women have behaved like their men. The chronicles are replete with the deeds of valour performed by the heroes of Mewar. But it was her misfortune to be ruled by a man who was neither a great soldier nor a statesman at the time when the sceptre of Delhi and Agra was swayed by the mightiest of Muslim kings-the man who was to shatter the patriarchal system of Rajasthan and to draw the little states into an imperial union, based on reciprocal trust and goodwill.
Rana Udai Singh, father of the celebrated Pratap, had come to the gaddi in 1537. According to Tod he had not one quality of a sovereign and lacking in martial virtue, the common heritage of his race, he was destitute of all. He might have frittered away his life in sloth and ease, secure in the fastnesses of his native mountains, had it not been for Akbar, who was now developing a scheme of bringing the whole of Rajasthan within the orbit of his empire. In 1562 he had allied himself with Amber by marriage and cemented his friendship further by elevating to high office Raja Man Singh, nephew of Raja Bhagwan Das, the heir of Beharimal, a man of rare abilities, who afterwards rose to be the supreme general and commander of the imperial forces. This done he turned against Mewar. As descendants of Bappa Rawal, her Ranas were recognised as pre-eminent among the various clans and were accorded universal esteem in Rajasthan. Their subjugation was bound to make an impression upon the other princes. Besides, the acquisition of such fortresses as Chitor and Ranthambhor would establish his hold on northern India.
In 1567 the imperial armies marched towards Mewar and on hearing the news Udai Singh retired into the hills, leaving the fort to be defended by Jaimal and Patta with 8,000 Rajputs. It was an act of cowardice unworthy of the Sisodia clan and well does the historian of Rajasthan observe that it would have been better for Mewar had the poniard fulfilled its intention, and the annals never recorded the name of Udai Singh in the catalogue of her princes. The Mughals
besieged Chitor and laid their batteries around the fortress. Jaimal and Patta heroically defended themselves, and the fair damsels in the inner apartments saved themselves from dishonour by performing Jauhar-an aft of self- immolation to which the Rajput women resorted in the last extremity of danger. Akbar entered the Fort at midday and ordered a general massacre. If tradition is to be believed the sacred threads of those who perished weighed 74 1/2 mans, a figure still marked on the banker’s letter in Rajasthan by which is invoked “the sin of the slaughter of Chitor” on those who violate the sanctity of the letter by opening it. Akbar returned to Ajmer and offered a thanksgiving service at Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti’s shrine. Udai Singh also emerged from his mountain retreat after the departure of the imperialists and busied himself in completing the palaces which he was constructing at the time of the invasion.
After Udai Singh’s death in 1572, Rana Pratap succeeded to the gaddi of Mewar. The poetic fancy of the bards described Chitor after the desolation as a “widow” despoiled of all that added to her loveliness. Brave and warlike, a true Ksha- triya in whose veins flowed the blood of Bappa Rawal; Pratap was the very embodiment of Rajput chivalry and honour. The humiliation of Chitor poured iron into his soul and he longed for revenge. His noble spirit was deeply stirred by what had happened and he desired the vindication of the honour of his house. Like his forefathers he resolved, in the language of the bard, “to make his mother’s milk resplendent.” The task was difficult. His state was small; it did not possess resources enough to contend against the mighty and majesty of the empire over which Akbar ruled. Secondly, the Rajput Princes of Amber, Marwar, Bikaner and Bundi had become the allies of his Muslim foe and were ready to help him against their own compatriots.
But Pratap’s ardour was not damped by the magnitude of the peril. He denied to himself all luxuries, slept on a straw bed, eschewed rich food and laid aside the plates of gold and silver from which royalty had so far eaten in Mewar. The kettledrums no longer sounded in the van of battle or processions. Like the Italian patriot, Mazzini, Pratap felt deeply the woes of his native land and regarded no sacrifice as too great in its service. Often was he heard to exclaim in sorrow: “Had Udai Singh never been born or none had intervened between him and Rana Songa, no Turk should have ever given laws to Rajasthan.” His soul revolted at the thought of entering into a matrimonial alliance with the Muslim emperor and he determined not to bow his head before him in submission. To him the conduct of his fellow princes was indefensible; it meant degradation and dishonour. With a singleness of purpose that has no parallel in Rajput annals, Pratap resolved to carry on the battle of freedom against the empire.
The first thing he did was to strengthen his small state. He reorganised the Government, properly garrisoned the forts and entrusted them to capable officers. He commanded his subjects to retire into the mountain country when they were attacked by the Mughals. Raja Man Singh was deputed by Akbar to see the Rana after the conquest of Gujarat. The latter accorded to the Prince of Amber a warm reception but refused to listen to his overtures for an imperial alliance. An anecdote which is widely’ prevalent in Rajasthan shows the dislike which Pratap felt for such a union. Before his departure, Man Singh was invited to dinner by the Rana, and when the dishes were served, he himself did not turn up and excused himself on the ground that he was too ill from stomach-ache to be present. Man Singh understood the hint; he rose up in great agitation and said that he well knew the remedy for the Rana’s ailment and that he would have to pay dearly for this affront. Unperturbed by this threat, the Rana replied that he should always be happy to meet him, but as Raja Man leapt on horseback, uttering some more comment upon his host’s behavior, an indiscreet Rajput remarked from behind that he should not forget to bring his phupha (father’s sister’s husband) Akbar with him. This was a biting allusion to what the Mewar heroes regarded as a mesalliance between the house of Amber and the Mughal. The spot on which the plates were laid for Man Singh was sprinkled with Ganges water and the chiefs bathed and changed their clothes as if they had been contaminated by the presence of one who had allied himself with the Mughal by marriage. Raja Man was mortally offended at this insult and he persuaded the emperor to tumble the pride of Pratap.
It is not necessary to examine the casus belli between the emperor and Rana Pratap. The court historian, Abul Fazl, writes that the motive was to chastise him for his “arrogance, presumption, disobedience, deceit and dissimulation.” The Rana’s offence «was that he was proud of his lineage and was determined to preserve the independence of his country. Nothing could draw him into an alliance with the Turk. Such were the sentiments of Rana Pratap, and it can be easily imagined how they must have galled the emperor as well as his Rajput satellites who in their heart of hearty desired the ruin of the Rana in order to avoid the odious comparison between him and themselves. Akbar, on his part, was bent on the Rana’s humiliation and the extinction of Mewar’s independence. The struggle between these two men representing different ideals of imperial expansion and insular freedom was bound to be a bitter one, and no wonder if it evoked the finest qualities in those who pitted themselves against a foe of matchless wealth and power. The better mind of Rajasthan approved of Pratap’s action as is shown by the fervour with which the tale of his heroic achievements is still recounted before admiring listeners by bards.
Akbar chose Man Singh, whom he had exalted by the title of Farzand (son), to lead the campaign against the Rana, obviously in the hope that being a Rajput, whose ancestors had beeti vassals of Mewar, he would provoke his great antagonist to a mortal combat in which he would be killed. Accompanied by many nobles, Muslim and Rajput, and five thousand horse, Man Singh started for Mewar in April, 1576, and soon reached Mandalgarh where he began to organise his army. The Rana marched from Kumbhalgarh to Goganda and desired to give battle at Mandalgarh, but his nobles advised him to wait and encounter the enemy from the mountains. The imperialists encamped on the hank of the river Banas near Haldi- ghat and marching from his place the Rana also posted himself at a distance of six miles from Man Singh’s camp. He was assisted by a number of Rajput chiefs, and it is significant to note that among his allies was Hakim Khan Sur who had joined with his auxiliaries. Here was fought the great battle which has immortalised Pratap in history and has exalted Haldighat to the rank of Thermopylae in Greece.
Abdul Qadir Badaoni, the historian, who was present on the field of battle as a follower of the Mughal commander, Asaf Khan, has given a graphic account of it. It was the hottest part of June
The Rana utilised this interval to increase his resources. He won over to his side the rulers of Sirohi, Jalor and Idar and with their, help began to raid the Mughal outposts. The emperor sent punitive expeditions against the rulers of Sirohi and Jalor with the result that they submitted to hire. His attempts to check the Rana’s exploits proved unsuccessful.
Hearing of these audacious attempts Akbar marched from Ajmer to Goganda and remained in Rana’s country for six months, but the latter took no notice of him. When he left for Ban- swara, the Rana came out of the hills and blocked the road to Agra. The imperial officers, Raja Bhagwan Das, Raja Man Singh, Mirza Khan and Qasim Khan, did their best to catch the Rana but in vain. He wandered from hill to hill raiding the Mughal camp and on one occasions it so happened that the haram of Mirza Khan Fell into the hands of the Crown Prince but the chivalrous Rana treated the ladies like his own daughters and sent them to their husband with every mark of honour.
But nothing served to induce Akbar to desist from his attempts to bring about the Rana’s destruction. He sent Shahbaz Khan against him with a considerable force in October, 1578, assisted by the Rajputs of Amber. But the latter were sent back by the imperial general who had no faith in their loyalty. Shahbaz Khan seized Kelwara and then proceeded to Kumbhalgarh but the Rana evacuated the fortress leaving it in charge of one of his chiefs. The Mewar garrison offered a desperate resistance and every inch of ground was contested, but they were overpowered by the Mughals, and Shahbaz Khan captured Goganda and Udaipur and seized enormous booty. The Rana had retired to Chavand, where he took up his abode and built a small temple which exists to this day.
In these days of difficulty the Rana received great help from his minister, Bhamashah, who brought much booty from Malwa and placed at his master’s disposal twenty-five lakhs of rupees and twenty thousand asharifs. The condition, of the army was improved, and the raids were begun with redoubled vigour. Kumbhalgarh fell into his hands and a little later the princes of Banswara and Dungarpur were repulsed in an attack and made to acknowledge the Rana’s sovereignty. Shahbaz Khan appeared once again at the head of a large army but he had to return unsuccessful. The Rajputs followed their usual tactics. The Rana fled into the hills. He forbade cultivation in the plains and ordered the farmers not to pay single paise to the Muslim tax-collectors. The object was to reduce the country to such a desolate condition that it would not be worthwhile for the Mughals to waste their energy in conquering it. The beautiful valley presented a melancholy aspect: brambles and thorns grew along the road side; wild animals prowled about in search of prey; the hums in habitations were deserted; from the Arrival’s to the eastern plateau the whole country became a wild waste. Such was the method by which Rana Pratap tried to check the aggressive designs of Mughal imperialism.
The events of Rana Pratap’s life savour of romance and the bards have woven legends round his personality which have made his name a dear possession in Rajasthan. Years rolled away in hardship and misery, and at times he felt anxious for the safety of his family. Yet he bore up against it all with a fortitude which is worthy of the highest praise. Mirza Khan was touched by the Rana’s valour and perseverance and sent him verses in his own tongue described by Tod.
The last scene has been pathetically foot to frustrate his plans was foiled by his valour and enterprise. There is no other name in the Rajputs’ Saga which is mentioned with greater honour and reverence. Lapse of time has not bedimmed the splendour of Pratap’s achievements, and his epic heroism is as much an object of admiration today as it was in the sixteenth century. Even Akbar, on hearing the news of his death, was moved and admitted that his was an example worthy of the highest praise. The Muslim empire has vanished into the unknown; the great palaces and council-halls of Agra and Delhi lie tenantless, the Muslim and Rajput imperialists, who marched against the Rana to tame his proud spirit, are mere phantoms across the pages of history, but Pratap lives a charmed life. Even today his name is to all ardent lovers of liberty a cloud of hope by day and a pillar of fire by night. To those whose lot it is to engage in righteous but forlorn causes it is an abiding source of inspiration.
But, along with Pratap, history must accord its meet of praise to the men who fought and suffered with him. Abul Fazl and other court chroniclers have not a word of sympathy to offer for these hapless victims of imperial ambition who made their glory possible. Indeed in this drama of Me war’s struggle, as Vincent Smith remarks, the vanquished are greater than the victors, for their sacrifice and idealism added to the dignity of life, and enriched the pages of history as nothing else could have done. They fought for the honour of Rajasthan and unheeded the contagion of example. Unlike others of their tribe they chose poverty and exile as their lot in life. The race owes something to these men of noble minds and brave hearts, and if their foes added to the glory of the empire, they contributed to those graceful virtues without which wealth and power tend to turn men into brutes. Amidst much that is sordid and mean, their example stands like that of the Greeks and Romans of old who courted ruin in the service of the cause which they held clear. The deeds of such men are the salt of history and as long as man appreciates high aspiration and the endeavour to realise it, their remembrance shall remain a precious heritage of our race.